Djokovic, seeking a fifth Dubai crown and 50th career singles title, defeated Vasek Pospisil 6-4 6-4, Murray overcame a determined Gilles Muller 6-4 7-5, and Berdych came through a stern test by Jeremy Chardy, winning 7-6(2) 6-4.
Djokovic didn’t look entirely comfortable against an able opponent, but he was able to break to lead 5-4 and serve out for the first set. After an early exchange of breaks in the second, the top seed fought off two break points to hold for 3-3 and then earned a decisive break for 4-3.
“Well, first match since Australian Open final, so still looking for that rhythm on the court,” said Djokovic. “But I managed to stay mentally tough. Patient in rallies, I thought. As soon as we get through the rally, I have a better chance of winning. He’s a very flashy player, aggressive, goes after his shots. I just utilized my opportunities.”
Murray also struggled to gain an advantage over Muller and many games were closely contested, with the opening three games taking 24 minutes to complete. The Scot eventually broke to lead 3-2 but then had to fight off two break points to hold for 5-3.
In the second set, Murray broke to lead 2-1 but failed to serve out the set at 5-4. But Muller then double-faulted to give Murray a 6-5 lead and he gratefully received his second opportunity to close out the match.
“I made him work very hard I think on his service games. That was something I wanted to try to do from early on in the match,” said Murray. “I think the end of both sets I didn’t serve so well, but apart from that I didn’t give him any opportunities really. I thought I played a fairly high quality match.”
Berdych struggled in the first set, saving two break points to hold the opening game, breaking for 2-0 but then immediately losing his own serve at love. Chardy then broke again to lead 5-4 but failed to serve out the set and Berdych dominated the tiebreak. Just one break, for 2-1, decided the second set.
“Some of the things were a little bit on my side that I made it complicated a bit more than usual, but the outcome, it’s important that I won the last point of the match and get through it,” said Berdych. “Not every day it’s going to be perfect.”
Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri put up a brave fight against Borna Coric before bowing out 5-7 6-3 6-3, but Turkish qualifier Marsel Ilhan reached the second round with a 6-1 76(4) victory over wild card Alexander Zverev.
Sixth seed Feliciano Lopez and seventh seed Roberto Bautista Agut both won, but eighth seed David Goffin was felled 6-2 7-5 by wild card Marcos Baghdatis.
“We have enjoyed some very closely fought matches today at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, demonstrating once again the tremendous strength of the field here,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of Dubai Duty Free, the tournament owners and organizers. “We look forward to many more competitive matches throughout the week.”